X Marx the Spot: The Treasure of the HSM Archives

Recently I was invited to Hickey Freeman on New York’s Madison Avenue, where, in the offices above the retail store, I found the menswear equivalent of buried treasure: Four rooms packed with thousands of documents chronicling 100 years of American history through the lens of men’s fashion.

The recently bankrupt Hartmarx Corporation — which owns the brands Hart, Schaffner & Marx and Hickey Freeman — has brought its extensive archives out of storage and is currently at work digitizing the collection for the Internet.

The archives consist of everything from turn-of-the-century catalogs to Deco-era original oil paintings. Here’s a fraction of it:

Hickey Freeman was founded in 1899 and Hart, Schaffner & Marx in 1911, so the archives form a veritable season-by-season chronicle of American life in the 20th century as reflected through men’s clothing.

It’s hard not to underestimate the significance of such an archive; it feels like something that won’t happen again in our lifetime. After all, how many companies are there with century-old legacies, who’ve amassed such a collection of ephemera and who are cataloging it for public consumption? Brooks Brothers is twice as old, but it has also revealed much of its archival material already (in the “Generations of Style” book, for example). Also, what Hartmarx is attempting to do is comprehensive and will be free to the public online, something for which it should be commended.

The collection includes images that will appeal to every possible menswear enthusiast, from Fedora Lounge to London Lounge, Brooklyn hipsters doing the 1890s look and, of course, fans of the natural shoulders of midcentury.

The archiving process has just begun and Hartmarx has not announced when the archives will be released on the Web. But Ivy-Style has been given permission to reproduce what has been photographed and scanned so far. Much of it falls outside our purview, but here is a thematic set of Hart, Schaffner & Marx advertising art from the ’50s:

This black knit tie and yellow sweater reminds me of a celebrated photo of Jimmy Stewart:

Another dark knit tie with yellow again, but this time a tattersal vest instead of sweater. And a nice collegiate theme:

Long straight lines to the suit, soft roll to the shirt collar:

1957:

A couple of pinned club collars:

Does this guy look familiar? He should: He’s the same model for the Jolly Green Giant:

Stay tuned for more images as they become available. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

16 Comments on "X Marx the Spot: The Treasure of the HSM Archives"

  1. Amazing find. Love the collection of the pipe smokers.

  2. Very nice post. Thanks.

  3. This is indeed a great find! I can’t wait to hear and see more. Do they plan to sell or reproduce and print any of these images?

  4. Not yet. I suggested an exhibit, book and limited edition prints, humbly offering myself as project manager, but the answer was basically “We’re bankrupt.”

    Hartmarx’s assets are currently owned by a holding company in India.

  5. Awesome! Thanks for sharing these.

  6. Any artwork from the teens and pre-teens by Edward Penfield?

    He was a leading illustrator of the time, and he did a series of posters for HSM. Ironically, his posters did not focus on the clothes, but on the life style of the HSM. One poster featured an elaborate coach and set of horses in front of the New York Public Library.

    Thank you.

  7. These are wonderful. I could spend days happily going through each one of them.

  8. Mark, trying to get an answer for you…

  9. Chirstian, if there are any Penfields, I would love to arrange a viewing for an upcoming book written by America’s leading poster scholar. He lives in New York, has New York’s leading poster gallery and auction. He is writing a book solely on Edward Penfield.

    The artwork on your prior post shows a bunch of the college men singing and having a good time. One lad has 1916 on his sweater. Penfield was alive and working then. I cannot make-out the signature at the bottom. Is it Edward Penfield?

    Incidentally, Penfield in his magazine covers for Harpers in the 1890’s protrayed the Ivy League lifestyle among other subjects of upper middle class society.

    Many thanks.

  10. Mark, I looked at the hi-res version of the 1916 collegiate image and the signature appears to be the initals JS. You can see it pretty clearly next to the trouser cuffs of the figure on the far right.

    Still no word from Hartmarx on Penfield.

  11. Christian, any word on Penfield?

  12. S R Heymann | January 6, 2010 at 10:02 pm |

    Have you suggested to HSM that it publish its own artwork in book form? As you note, there’s plenty there to be of “historical” interest, and not just art history (which, if that’s all there were to it, would, admittedly, be a reach).

  13. Any updates on this “web archive”?

  14. I believe it’s on hold. My contact is no longer with the company.

  15. I’ve been trying to find out information on a few framed posters that came from the HSM offices when they liquidated. I bought them at a used office furniture store in Chicago. One has the HSM inventory numbers from the Bankruptcy Court and one has the name of the exec whose office it hung in before it was put into their storage.The posters don’t show any men’s clothing but two different scenes, one titled Old French Houses in New Orleans and one titled Old Creole Courtyard. The large print on the first says “Anywhere in the world, a man wearing Hart, Schaffner, & Marx clothes is a well dressed man” and the print on the Old Creole Courtyard says “Glad to have you make yourself at home here;It’s the Home of Hart, Schaffner, & Marx clothes”. Both prints (or Lithographs…I can’t tell) have black women carrying laundry with one looking upward and talking to what looks to be the lady of the house. Both have the Edward Penfield name in the lower right corner and also the Copywright attributed to HSM. They are, very nicely,matted and framed. A third print I purchased is titled “Battle of Lexington” and depicts men in civil war dress shooting across a field at each other with one man down and the drummer kneeling next to him. It bears the HMS copyright claim and Edward Penfields name but has no wording. I was trying to find some guidance as to what to sell the Lexington print for. I was hoping to sell it for enough to pay for all 3 prints as I would like to keep the New Orleans posters. Anyone have any idea if these even have a value on the open market?

  16. 1957 image added.

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